Culture, Politics and Climate Change
ENVS 4800

Course Requirements


This is an upper division course and the reading schedule is rigorous. It is important that everyone stay up to date with the readings and all other expectations for the course. All readings must be completed before the class for which they are assigned. Also, all assignments turned in must be typewritten using 12 pt Times New Roman, double-spaced with 1” margins.

Attendance & Participation 40 pts
Roundtable Discussion
(15 pts - comment sheet*; 15 pts – facilitation; 10 pts – summary*) 40 pts Activities #1 & #2 (20 pts each)
40 pts
Activities #1 & #2
(20 pts each)
40 pts
Team Project
(10 pts – proposal*; 30 points – presentation)
40 pts
Final Exam/Individual Research Paper
(10 pts – proposal*; 30 pts – final version*)
40 pts
TOTAL: 200 pts

* for late assignments I will have to deduct 10% per calendar day the item is late (starting from the class session in which they’re due [except that comment sheets are deemed late with the deduction starting after 5PM on Wednesdays])

Because this is a ‘Critical Thinking’ course, the class structure will consist mainly of roundtable discussions. Unfortunately, in the sessions we will not be able to discuss all dimensions and facets of the themes and readings. So it will be up to you to engage both critically and mindfully with these outside of our meetings as well.

To help you engage critically with these themes and readings, you may wish to ask yourselves the following questions:

  • What are the main points or themes?
  • How (well) do the readings address important facets of the topic?
  • What is the author’s central thesis?
  • How is this work similar to or different from other course material, your own ideas, or other information you have come across in the past?
  • Where are possible weaknesses in the author’s arguments?
  • Do you agree with the author’s central assertions, theories, ideas? If so, why? If not, why not?

Considering and/or writing out answers to these questions will help you as you prepare for the class discussions (especially in the week you co-facilitate) as well as your individual research papers. I also encourage you to arrange additional student-led discussion groups outside of class as needed/desired.


Each person enrolled in the course is expected to participate in each session with the issues that are discussed. This requires that everyone be consistently present in each class through discussion and questions about the class topics and materials. Our discussion inevitably will build upon previous sessions. Consequently, if you accumulate more than three unexcused absences during the quarter, you will not pass the course.

Class Participation

Participation will be evaluated through your engagement in the class discussions as well as contributions through class preparation. An important requirement will be that everyone comes to each class session ready to contribute with notes and comments you have assembled based on the readings. These might consist of elements of the following:

  • Clarification questions that you may have about one or more of the readings - these can help to address points in the readings that were confusing or contradictory
  • Comments on key points in the readings, a portion of a reading, or theme(s) between readings
  • Comments about (dis)agreements that you may have with assertions or themes in the readings
  • Reflections on something surprising, new, or counterintuitive that you learned from the readings

Participating in class discussion, and preparing comments helps in a number of ways.  Of note, while improving your detailed understanding the material, it also provides a series of working notes from which you can draw for your roundtable facilitation and final paper.

Roundtables: Comment Sheets, Discussion co-Facilitation, Summary

During the ten Thursday sessions specified below, everyone will take turns co-facilitating roundtable discussions of the week’s readings and themes. I will provide a sign-up sheet in the first sessions in order to pick the week and theme for facilitation. This co-facilitation will have three main elements:

  1. preparation of a Comment Sheet before the session
  2. co- facilitation during the session
  3. a Summary after the session


Comment Sheets
Co-facilitators will prepare how they tentatively plan to guide discussions. They must coordinate and draw up notes to distribute, providing a set of potential discussion points. co-facilitators should target approximately 2 pages of comments/questions and send them to the other course participants over email by 5PM the evening before the session (To post a message to the class, send the attachment via email to These comments will direct us all to what co-facilitators determine to be salient, important, and key themes as well as critiques and questions from the week’s material to discuss during the session. These can be prepared and distributed individually or together.

Based on the co-facilitated roundtable discussion, co-facilitators will each submit an approximately 1000-word summary on the content as well as the process of preparation for and activities in the roundtable discussion. When turning in the Summary, note your word count at the top of the page. Use the Harvard Citation Scheme for all references (here and in your term paper, described below).

Summaries must include:

  • Substantive treatment of what discussions and questions transpired in the session.
  • Discussion of how the roundtable session may have or may have not furthered critical understanding of the themes for that week. 
  • Reflections on your facilitation role in the session:  What worked in co-facilitating the discussion? What did not? What would you do differently the next time? 

Activity #1: Climate Reality Project

For the first three weeks of September (while working through the themes associated with Component II), we will be critically engaging with the Al Gore-led ‘Climate Reality Project’ which will be broadcast live online from 6pm Mountain Time September 14 – 6pm September 15, According to their website:

“24 Presenters. 24 Time Zones. 13 Languages. 1 Message. 24 Hours of Reality is a worldwide event to broadcast the reality of the climate crisis. It will consist of a new multimedia presentation created by Al Gore and delivered once per hour for 24 hours, in every time zone around the globe. Each hour people living with the reality of climate change will connect the dots between recent extreme weather events — including floods, droughts and storms — and the manmade pollution that is changing our climate…The Climate Reality Project is bringing the facts about the climate crisis into the mainstream and engaging the public in conversation about how to solve it. We help citizens around the world discover the truth and take meaningful steps to bring about change. Founded and chaired by Al Gore, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President of the United States, The Climate Reality Project has more than 5 million members and supporters worldwide. It is guided by one simple truth: The climate crisis is real and we know how to solve it.”


An event is tentatively planned for Boulder, Colorado (representing the Mountain Time zone) and more information on how we will be involved will be discussed in class.

The approximately 1000-word write-up for this activity will be due on September 20. When turning in the activity #1 write-up, note your word count at the top of the page. I will provide more details on the expectations for this, but the write-up must include:

  • A brief description of what transpired during this ‘Climate Reality Project’ in Boulder, and in different cultures, contexts, and places around the world (another particular zone/place might be focused on besides Boulder in this write-up)
  • Substantive treatment of what discussions and questions emanated from this ‘Climate Reality’ event. How was ‘reality’ characterized? Were there particular points of contention, or confusion regarding what to do about anthropogenic climate change?  Were they resolved in the project?  Why or why not?
  • Reflections on how this event fits in the context of past, present and future challenges in the cultural politics and climate change. 

Activity #2: Twitter Project

For the month of October, we will experience first-hand the opportunities and limitations of climate communications through new and social media by way of Twitter. We will open a collective account for the month, and each course participant will be expected to ‘tweet’ once a week during the four weeks of the project before the write-up is due Thursday, November 3.

During October (and while working through the themes in Component III), we will pursue considerations such as:

  • does increased visibility of climate change in new/social media translate to improved communication, or just more noise?
  • Do these spaces provide opportunities for new forms of deliberative community regarding questions of climate mitigation and adaptation?
  • Or has the content of this increased coverage shifted to polemics and arguments over measured traditional media analysis?
  • How do these forms of new/social media raise awareness and inspire engagement in the public sphere? Which demographics are more involved than others? Which may be alienated or privileged through these forms of climate communication?
  • In this more open space of content production, do new/social media provide more space for contrarian views to circulate?
  • Through its interactivity, does increased consumption of news through new/social media further fragment a public discourse on climate mitigation and adaptation, through information silos where members of the public can stick to sources that help support their already held views?

The approximately 1000-word write-up for this activity will be expected to address these questions, and others that may arise during discussions over this time period. When turning in the activity #2 write-up, note your word count at the top of the page.

ALERT: all tweets must relate to course content. Irrelevant or inappropriate tweets will not be tolerated, and will result in no credit for the assignment.

Team Project

This team project is designed to build skills in collaboration and critique. This project is also set up so that everyone can creatively and uniquely apply theoretical and academic tools to ‘real world’ environments. There is no shortage of contentious and important issues in politics, culture and climate change. However, teams (of about 4, depending on the final number of participants in the course) will need to select a topic from one of these four themes from the course: 1) institutions, actors, collective psychology, 2) media, 3) public engagement, 4) businesses, NGOs, and celebrities. On Thursday, September 8 I will ask each of you to select one of the four themes, as a point of departure, thereby joining a team for the project presentations.

Based on these themes, teams will develop a presentation that works through a specific case-study to illustrate interacting factors. In so doing, the team will identify key actors and connected issues involved, power struggles and oppositions therein. The presentation should identify the problem(s), as they relate to culture, politics and climate change. Groups will then critique and analyze competing viewpoints and struggles over possible courses of climate action. Planning, coordination and organization are indispensable for success! Team project proposals will be due Thursday, September 29 (worth 10 points) so begin this early. The proposals must be a clear 400-500 word description of the specific topic the group plans to pursue, and associated issues you will address in the presentation. Note your word count at the top of the page.

Final Exam/Individual Research Paper

This individual research paper is designed for you to draw critically and creatively from the class readings and discussions. This paper must be 2500-3000 words (not including references), and should center on your unique analytical perspective on a particular theme, connection(s) or contradiction(s) across themes discussed in this course.

At least ten in-text/end-of-text citations must be included in the individual research paper (only three of these may be web-based). There are a number of acceptable ways to cite references. For our purposes in this class, use the Harvard Citation Style (a.k.a. Harvard referencing). This is the most common referencing scheme in articles that you will be reading in the course, so you can find many examples of this citation scheme in the reading materials listed below. Also, feel free to search the web for further examples. As a warning, I will be increasingly strict about this as the term progresses, so that we can all be citation whizzes by December! IMPORTANT: In-text citations are markers for the more complete reference at the end of the text. They’re not the same. Please see me in office hours and/or ask questions in class if this is unclear.

This assignment aims to deepen your understanding and critical analysis on a specific issue related to culture, politics and climate change that you’ve found interesting. All work here must be original (not previous/concurrent papers from another class). Also, note your word count at the top of the paper.

ALERT: papers must relate to course content (in terms of the topic chosen, as well as some of the references you use), and not merely to climate change (or something else) more broadly. Treat this as another opportunity to further pursue areas, themes and issues of interest that you find exciting and worthwhile through your co-facilitation week and/or team project. I encourage you to be very specific with your paper topic.

Please feel free to discuss possible topics with me before you submit your individual research paper proposal (worth 10 points) on Tuesday, October 18. The proposals must consist of a 300-400 word abstract, a tentative outline, and an annotated bibliography of relevant readings. Final exam/individual papers are due (hard copies!) at the scheduled time of the final exam, Wednesday, December 14, 4:30PM – 7:00 PM.